Fair trade or free trade? Let your voice be heard on Minnesota’s future!
The Obama Administration is negotiating two new mega trade deals (one with Pacific Rim countries, another with Europe) entirely in secret, with the goal of further expanding the NAFTA-model of free trade. These trade agreements could have major impacts on Minnesota's farmers, workers, small business owners and rural communities. They could limit Minnesota’s ability to support local food and energy systems and grow local businesses. In order to stay up to speed, Minnesota has set up a new Trade Policy Advisory Council (TPAC) to advise the state legislature and Governor.
TPAC wants to hear from Minnesotans: What concerns do you have about free trade? What role could TPAC play in the future? Now is your opportunity to have a say in our future trade policy. Complete the survey and let them know future trade negotiations should be public, not secret. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the development of trade agreements and that they protect local control and our quality of life. The free trade model has failed for Minnesota and we need a new approach to trade. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard before trade agreements are completed, and that they protect local control, our natural resources and our quality of life.
Posted March 30, 2012 by Katie Rojas-Jahn
Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a decision about the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) and its use in food packaging. Their decision affects everyone’s health and our right to be protected from exposure to harmful chemicals in our food, our homes and our environment. The agency ruled that it will not limit the use of BPA in food packaging products.
I won’t go into a full history of the problems with BPA, because our colleagues at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families have put together a great introduction to the chemical. But I do want to talk about why we are concerned that it is being used in an essentially unregulated manner and in a broad range of products—from the linings of food cans to thermal receipt paper to amalgam dental fillings. An ever-growing body of science continues to find links between the chemical and several harmful health effects, including: diabetes, obesity, breast and prostate cancer.
Several studies were released in 2011 related to the presence of BPA in our food. One study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that eliminating canned and pre-packaged foods from the diet of study participants over a three-day period reduced levels of the chemical in their urine by an average of 60 percent. Another study from The Journal of the American Medical Association found that eating a canned food item once a day can increase levels of BPA up to 1,200 percent. And finally, testing conducted by the Breast Cancer Fund (here and here) revealed that BPA is found in canned foods. Levels of the chemical in each food varied, but in some a single serving contained levels that have been linked with adverse health effects in lab studies.
Several states have taken action in recent years on BPA in everyday products, including Minnesota—the first state in the nation to ban use of the chemical in baby bottles and sippy cups. But why are states compelled to take action on this matter to begin with?
The need for state level action to protect public health stems from the badly broken systems that are meant to keep harmful chemicals off the market, but in fact fail miserably at doing so.
In the case of bisphenol A in food packaging, regulatory authority falls to the U.S. FDA. Today’s decision is the result of a multi-year battle between the agency and NRDC. More than three years ago, NRDC petition the FDA to ban the use of bisphenol A as a food additive. Because the agency did not respond within a reasonable time frame, NRDC mounted a legal action which resulted in a settlement requiring the FDA to render a decision by March 31, 2012. You can read a full account of the process on the NRDC Switchboard Blog.
This delay in and of itself is emblematic of our broken system: even in the face of mounting evidence on the problems associated with BPA, it took the FDA more than three years and a court case to make a ruling that ultimately does not protect our health.
The problem of harmful chemicals contaminating our food is only one piece of the puzzle. Problem chemicals are also ending up in our environment and our bodies through exposures to everyday consumer products and chemicals in our environment. Contrary to popular belief, chemicals are not proven safe before they are used in the production of our everyday products. The result? There is no comprehensive oversight of chemicals in the U.S. and we don’t have an adequate system for identifying which chemicals are safe and which ones are harmful.
Given the sad state of policy at the federal level, states will continue to play a key role in protecting the health of our people. But we also need to demand action where our agencies have failed us. Healthy Legacy is a Minnesota-based coalition, co-founded by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, working to phase the use of toxic chemicals out of everyday products. Sign up now to receive action alerts and to keep up to date with our work.
Posted March 30, 2012 by
Yesterday our Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken introduced a bill in the Senate to protect energy programs in the Farm Bill that are critically important for rural communities. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa led the bill’s introduction, and Sen. Kent Conrad from North Dakota was also a co-sponsor.
This bill sets the stage for the 2012 Farm Bill Energy Title and draws a line in the sand to make sure that programs like the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP)and the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) don’t lose their funding. These programs have helped farmers plant more perennial crops and increase energy efficiency on the farm. Without them, farmers would have a harder time getting over some of the financial hurdles they encounter when getting started making environmental and energy improvements on the farm.
We would like to see the entire Minnesota congressional delegation show similar support and leadership in the House, and we are working together with several otherMinnesota groups to encourage them to do so. See a sample of the letter we sent to all of our federal legislators.
Posted March 29, 2012 by IATP
The U.S. Farm Bill—arguably the nation’s largest and most influential food policy tool—is written by Congress every five years. It includes far-reaching programs for crop production, farmers, rural development, energy, conservation and international food aid—the largest portion going to food assistance programs.
With a lot at stake, and serious economic and political challenges at hand, the 2012 Farm Bill will set the stage for the ongoing public debate: In one corner, the industrial food system and powerful lobbyists paid generously to protect the interests of agribusiness and the food industry giants; in the other, growing public support for fair sustainable agriculture that supports farmers, rural communities and protects the environment.
IATP has been ﬁghting for a fair, healthy and sustainable Farm Bill for more than 25 years. In our new What’s at Stake? series, we will analyze how the Farm Bill affects issues we all care about.
Read the entire series, including an introduction, on IATP’s Farm Bill page:
Read What’s at Stake in the 2012 Farm Bill?, share it with your networks, and help IATP fight for a fair, healthy and sustainable Farm Bill. Also, be sure to check out our Facebook page: Understanding the Farm Bill
Posted March 22, 2012 by Shiney Varghese
Today, even as the world celebrates World Water Day, some countries at the United Nations are trying to remove the reference to the “right to water” from a document that will guide the international development path in the coming decade.
It was less than two years ago, in the summer of 2010, that the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution recognizing water as a human right. This was followed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) adopting a resolution on “human rights and access to safe drinking water and sanitation,” which made these rights legally binding. The recognition of the right to water at these U.N. bodies, and the developments since, such as the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on right to water and the resolution by the World Health Assembly recognizing right to water, have helped place water rights on the global agenda.
These successes were partly the result of collective efforts of water justice activists over the last 10 years. IATP's own advocacy on right to water was a direct response to the reference to water as a “need” [instead of a right], in the Ministerial Declaration of the 2nd World Water Forum in 2000.
But these efforts have been met with consistent pushback. The efforts to undermine the recognition of the right to water have been most visible at the triennial World Water Forum. Starting with the second World Water Forum in 2000, it has steadfastly refused to recognize the right to water. This was the case at the third World Water Forum in 2003 (which followed the U.N. General Comment in 2002 on right to water), at the fourth World Water Forum in 2006 (where several governments led by Bolivia asked that the Ministerial recognize water as a human right) and at the fifth World Water Forum (to which the UNGA president sent a letter affirming the need to recognize water as a human right, and at which 24 governments came out with counter-declaration recognizing water as a human right).
And yet again, in the lead up to the sixth World Water Forum earlier this month (March 12–17, 2012), the draft ministerial declaration did not clearly affirm the right to water despite the fact that it has now been recognized by both by the U.N. General Assembly and by the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Expressing her surprise, the Special Rapporteur on right to water warned that “the outcome of the World Water Forum may result in ‘solutions’ built on faulty foundations.” This is surely a pointed reference to the slogan of the sixth forum that "It’s time for solutions and commitments.”
Instead of unequivocally reaffirming the “the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation,” and explicitly committing to the full implementation of the same, the draft ministerial declaration only committed to accelerate the full implementation of “human right obligations relating to access to safe drinking water and sanitation.” The issue of whether access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a human right was left open for interpretation.
To many groups in civil society it was clear that the draft Ministerial Declaration fell short of commitments that virtually all UN Member States had already made in multiple fora. Over 40 international and national networks and organizations issued a joint call to the 6th World Water Forum asking that “human right obligations relating to access to safe drinking water and sanitation” be replaced by “the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation,” or failing that they abstain from endorsing the declaration.
Unfortunately the Ministerial Declaration of the World Water Forum that came out on March 13 neither took account of these suggestions nor paid attention to the warning by civil society groups that “a Ministerial Declaration containing retrogressive language on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation would still set a negative precedent, which a small number of States will use to try to undermine progress on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation at the United Nations level and in other international processes.”
While the Ministerial Declaration of the 6th World Water Forum is neither legally binding, nor does it carry the political and moral authority of a UN resolution adopted in accordance with UN rules and procedures, it appears that the warning by civil society was spot on. This week in New York a handful of governments have been trying to remove the reference to right to water from the draft outcome statement being prepared for Rio+20, the 20th anniversary of the first earth summit held in Rio in 1992. The current draft was formulated on the basis of extensive consultation with governments, private sector and civil society. Despite many shortcomings this draft outcome document affirms a rights based approach to sustainable development and clearly refers to the right to water.
What is at stake in keeping this reaffirmation of the right to water?
To begin with, this language weakens the clear affirmation that governments need to determine how to realize the right to water and leaves room open for States to individually determine whether their human rights obligations require them to realize the right to water and sanitation for all.
The right to water is also recognized as a useful tool by communities who are hurt by developments that reduce their access to safe water. A clear affirmation of these legally binding rights (as per HRC resolution and/or national constitutions) in national and international rules, regulations and policy documents become extremely important for pursuit of decisions that are advantageous to vulnerable communities.
An important corollary to the recognition of this right is the attention it draws to the large number of people for whom these rights are not a reality yet. A case in point is the way the Special Rapporteur on right to water has been able to highlight violations of right to water in countries she visits.
Finally, as I have said elsewhere, globally there is an increasing attempt to promote policies that will treat water primarily as an economic good at the cost of water as a fundamental right. Several Rio+20 initiatives on the green economy also follow an approach that narrowly focuses on resource use efficiency and economic growth. In the absence of effective regulatory frameworks, safeguards and the clear recognition of water as a fundamental human right, corporate interests will continue to supersede marginalized, low-income communities and smallholder farmers. The stakes of reaffirming right to water is especially high this World Water Day, as we move towards Rio+20.
Posted March 21, 2012 by Madeline Kastler
Some ideas just make sense. One such idea is enabling low-income members of our community to purchase fresh, locally grown foods at the farmers market.
Farm-fresh, healthy choices at farmers markets are now easier to buy for Minnesotans who receive food support or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Farmers markets across the state are investing in EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) debit card technology, allowing them to accept food support benefits. In 2011, sixteen markets across the state accepted EBT cards with over $67,000 in EBT sales.
IATP partnered with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County and participating markets to help catalyze the expansion of EBT at farmers markets in Minneapolis over the last two years, providing technical support and leading community outreach and promotional efforts. By last summer, six markets in Minneapolis were accepting food support benefits. The main Minneapolis Farmers Market alone registered $36,500 in EBT sales to low income shoppers in 2011, up 169 percent from 2010.
Participating markets are also providing financial incentives to expand SNAP users’ purchasing power and incentivize healthy eating. As part of an innovative project funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Communities Putting Prevention to Work, and Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program, for the first $5 a customer spent on their EBT cards, they received an additional $5 in “Market Bucks” coupons. Connecting SNAP participants with farmers markets also creates new opportunities for local farmers and keeps food dollars circulating in the local economy.
While the EBT program is just getting off the ground in Minnesota, the results are real. A whopping 88 percent of surveyed EBT users said they eat more fruits and vegetables because they can use their SNAP benefits at the farmers market. Ninety-five percent of those surveyed said that they now shop more at farmers markets because of the program.
Unfortunately, successful programs like this are at risk as Congress looks to slash funding for the 2012 Farm Bill. We encourage you to let your Senators and Representatives know that opening up farmers markets to SNAP participants is an idea whose time has come.
Posted March 16, 2012 by Sophia Murphy
Three years of negotiations on guidelines to govern the tenure of land, fisheries and forests (commonly referred to as the Voluntary Guidelines, or VG) came to a successful close on Friday, March 9 in Rome. Under the auspices of the newly reconfigured Committee on World Food Security (CFS) (housed at the FAO with a secretariat shared among the FAO, the World Food Program and the International Fund for Agriculture and Development, or IFAD), the negotiations were contentious and important.
Ninety-six governments, accompanied by U.N. agencies, civil society organizations, farmer organizations and private sector representatives worked through three rounds of negotiations over as many years to come to agreement. The talks were chaired by the United States, whose negotiators earned the praise of the participants for their commitment to finding agreement across often significant divides. The conclusion of the VGs (see the FAO press release) marks an important step towards providing some protection for small-holders and communities around the world, who have found their productive assets (arable land, or fishing waters, or forests) under siege by a wave of investor interest from private companies and wealthy food importing countries.
The problems are serious and urgent. A number of CSOs have documented the issues—including GRAIN, who have documented the problem since it exploded in 2008 (most recently here); Oxfam, who published a detailed report last year as part of their GROW campaign; FIAN, who led the CSO input into the negotiations; and, the Oakland Institute who have a series of reports on land investments in Africa. IATP wrote about land grabs in 2009, in an article that was then published in a book, which has been revised and updated for re-release later in 2012. In an overview paper co-authored by IATP and GDAE on what needs to change to avoid another food crisis, a freeze on land investments until stronger laws are in place was one of the three top recommendations.
No one is going to be wholly satisfied with the outcome. Land grabs, as they have been popularly named, have exploded since the 2007-08 food price crisis. The estimated number of acres involved is now well over 200 million acres—an area approximately the size of Western Europe—much of it in the world’s poorest countries, home to some of the hungriest people, in places where food aid deliveries are not uncommon. And they are guidelines, not law. They will not end the documented abuses of communities’ rights. It is only a beginning.
But the VGs are important. They represent the first negotiated agreement on what should be going on, and thereby create an international standard. They were negotiated under the auspices of the CFS—a newly recreated multilateral forum to focus on food security issues that is still proving its worth, particularly to sceptical donor countries. It matters that the CFS succeeds, and it is heartening that it did. It matters because it is one of the most exciting experiments in serious engagement with civil society to set policy that exists in the U.N. system. And it matters because the CFS has a comprehensive mandate—which is the only way governments will be able to transform agriculture and food systems to eradicate hunger and ensure sustainable production for our children and their children.
The CFS is expected to adopt the VGs in May. Then for part two: laws with an enforcement mechanism. National laws, because that is where it really counts. And multilateral rules, too. Not multilateral rules premised on giving all firms equal rights to all countries’ resources. Private companies should make their case to each national government and work within that national government’s laws (and the laws of the state in which they are headquartered). Rather, multilateral rules must reinforce and uphold existing international norms, including the right to food, the principle of prior and informed consent, and the laws set out in international labor and environment conventions. The multilateral rules should provide a strong framework to guide national laws and discipline foreign investors.
The final text will be posted online soon, first in English and then translated into the other official U.N. languages (French, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian and Arabic). The Civil Society Mechanism to the CFS tracked the negotiations and outcome and will have updates here (http://cso4cfs.org/).
This blog has also been posted at Triple Crisis.
Posted March 15, 2012 by
Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hear arguments to expand the federal crop insurance program in the 2012 Farm Bill. Most likely, proponents of this expansion will point to the devastating crop losses wrought by extreme weather last year. Indemnity payouts for 2011 have so far cost taxpayers a record $10 billion, a number expected to grow as claims are processed.
Crop insurance proponents are right: Farming is getting riskier all the time. Last year we saw more extreme storms, more record heat, more droughts and more floods than in almost any previous year. According to climatologists, it’s a pattern that’s only going to get worse as the effects of climate change grow. Right now, our federal crop insurance program only protects farmers from being wiped out financially from extreme weather. Farmers need that protection, but the rest of us—the eaters—also need a secure, reliable food system.
There are ways to make agriculture more resilient to extreme weather. Farmers can plant more perennial crops, which require less water and hold on better to soil during floods. In drought-prone regions, they can select drought-tolerant crop varieties or change grazing or irrigation methods, among other strategies. Farming techniques that protect and enhance the soil, and use less water and energy, are those that stand the best chance of holding on when the weather turns bad.
Right now, there are no requirements for farmers receiving subsidized crop insurance to comply with even the most minimal conservation measures that would help keep topsoil from washing away during floods. They are not required, or even encouraged, to adopt farming practices that might help them avoid losing fields of food when extreme weather hits, putting the food supply, and taxpayers' pocketbooks, at risk. There is currently no limit on how much the federal government can spend on crop insurance payouts, and none proposed if insurance programs are expanded.
It’s time to strike a bargain with America’s farmers. We value their livelihoods, and that’s why we’re willing to spend billions annually to subsidize the federal crop insurance system. In return, we should ask them to do everything they can to make sure our food supply stays secure as extreme weather increases. We should create “climate insurance” for agriculture, by requiring that farmers enrolled in subsidized crop insurance programs are working to make their farms more resilient to climate change.
This could be done by creating climate adaptation plans in partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and farmers could get funding to create and implement these plans through existing programs in the Farm Bill’s Conservation Title, like the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Farmers have always been at the mercy of the weather, which is why the federal government has offered subsidized crop insurance since the late 1930s. This kind of income insurance is critical to help keep farmers on the land, but our food supply needs insurance, too.
We can’t know what 2012 will bring for farmers weather-wise, but if the lack of winter snow cover and recent spate of tornados are an indication, this year could also prove to be a risky one for agriculture. If we value our food supply, we need act now to couple crop insurance with "climate insurance" to make sure that in the wake of the next round of floods and droughts, our food is safe, and so are our farmers.
Posted March 14, 2012 by Ben Lilliston
Our global food system hinges on secrecy. The anonymous nature of where the food in our supermarket was produced brings one layer of secrecy. But even if you can solve that puzzle, how it was produced—and more specifically under what working conditions it was produced—remains completely hidden. This is the curtain that author Tracie McMillan pulls back in her remarkable new book, The American Way of Eating.
In the spirit of investigative journalists like Barbara Ehrenreich before her, McMillan documents her experiences picking grapes, peaches and garlic in California, working in the Wal-Mart produce section in Michigan, and in the kitchen at Applebee’s in New York City. The book is receiving a ton of high praise and deservedly so, with Rush Limbaugh a notable exception.
Each section gives a fascinating glimpse into the lives and working conditions of people who produce our food. We also learn how difficult it is to live, let alone eat healthy, on the meager wages these jobs pay. The work conditions described by McMillan are very different—from the fields to the supermarket to the kitchen—but all reflect a certain powerlessness in relation to their employer, combined with solidarity as co-workers help each deal with the challenges of the work (with a disturbing exception on her last day Applebee’s).
While the book focuses on food in the U.S., food worker exploitation is an international story. Wal-Mart and Applebees (one of the world’s largest sit-down restaurant chains) are global corporations, and source food from all over the world. Many of the workers in the fields of California were forced, through economic circumstances, to migrate north from Mexico after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994. This was particularly true for families involved in agriculture. And certainly the global food system is increasingly following this U.S. model of food production.
McMillan’s book reminds us that with secrecy often comes exploitation. We wrote last week about the Coalition for Immokalee Workers’ fast for fair food to raise awareness about fair pay and treatment of tomato workers. Many others, like the Food Chainworkers Alliance, are leading other areas this work. Each initiative takes a step toward making justice for workers part of our way of eating.
Posted March 13, 2012 by
By Ron Leonard
Last week, Dr. Willard Cochrane passed away at the age of 98. Dr. Cochrane was an agricultural economist whose career spanned the development of agricultural economics as a profession. He was dean of the School of Agricultural Economics at the University of Minnesota where he emerged nationally as the leading proponent of the concept of supply management, which dominated a ferocious debate over farm policy after the second World War. Cochrane became the chief economist at the Department of Agriculture in 1961, joining fellow Minnesotan Orville Freeman when President John F. Kennedy appointed the latter as Secretary of Agriculture.
Freeman created the position of chief economist, which gave Cochrane responsibility for economic policy and planning. Cochrane in turn recommended that Freeman establish the Economic Research Service (ERS), restoring the Bureau of Agricultural Economics that had been dismembered after the Korean War.
With ERS as the planning platform, Cochrane directed the planning and development of the legislative proposal for supply management policy and the development of a food stamp demonstration project and the drafting of legislation for a national food stamp program. Both supply management and food stamps would become central elements of policy initiatives on farm and food programs of the Kennedy administration.
Work on the proposal for a supply management program had started in mid-December 1960, but was interrupted in early January when 1961 crop projections for corn and feed grains indicated farmers would harvest more corn in the Fall than could be safely stored. Freeman ordered an emergency supply management program to be prepared to reduce corn output. Cochrane and his economists finished the proposal in February. The legislation was introduced and enacted by Congress in March in less than 30 days, record time for Congressional action, and was ready before most farmers were plowing ground in April for planting crops.
The emergency program was voluntary, and essentially paid farmers not to plant corn. The cost of the emergency program turned out to be less than the federal government would have spent to buy the corn that would have been produced under then-existing farm programs. Corn production was estimated to be a billion bushels lower than if all available crop acres had been planted. Overall feed grain carryover for 1961 was lower than in 1960, reducing storage costs USDA would otherwise have paid.
The success of the emergency program was a fortunate event, but it was not necessarily a predictable outcome for future years. It demonstrated that supply management worked, undercutting the strategy of the Farm Bureau and other opponents to argue it was an untested policy and could not work. Nonetheless, the argument over supply management raged on until 1964 when permanent legislation based on the concept was adopted for corn and wheat.
Cochrane did not suffer fools easily. As an economist he based his conclusion on numbers and his recommendations on his conclusions, a trait that leads most people who work with economists to agree that arguing with economists is a losing game. He was Kennedy’s campaign advisor on farm policy, and the campaign staff one day unwittingly asked Cochrane to brief reporters on the elements of supply management. The reporters listened, somewhat baffled, until one of them realized Cochrane was talking about reducing commodity output. Wouldn’t that raise food prices, the reporter asked? Cochrane admitted that food might cost as much as 10 percent more over time. The headlines the next day warned that Kennedy’s farm program could lead to a 10 percent increase in food prices. Cochrane’s briefing days were over.
Cochrane’s skills were valued considerably higher in other spheres. The core element of supply management is planning the key units of annual commodity programs, especially the level of costs per acre of cropland needed to induce farmer participation. Ultimately, a farmer will sit down with pencil and paper (or computer) to calculate whether signing up for a commodity program will produce more income than planting a full or partial crop. Essentially, the farmer is negotiating with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as to what the federal government would pay him or her. Under the Freeman version of supply management, USDA would represent the farmer in negotiations. USDA, however, reports to OMB on budget matters. The agriculture committees of Congress quickly realized, since OMB reports to Congress, that farmers, or their organizations, would prefer to have Congress negotiate with OMB on their behalf.
Supply management was an issue of what institution, either Congress or the cabinet department would deal with OMB on program costs and spending. The development of the commodity program plan, however, would be a responsibility of the program staff operating under the instructions of the agency or committee. In effect, since ERS functions as a planning staff available to USDA and the congressional committees, Cochrane or his successor would crunch the numbers regardless.
Cochrane’s greatest legacy, however, is not his role as an official in shaping government policy. Instead he will be remembered as an educator, as an advisor and mentor for the hundreds of men and women who are now putting into practices the skills they gained from his instruction and the insights he nurtured in his long career on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. My daughter is one, and as I watch her progress in her career, I see many things for which I am grateful to Willard Cochrane.
Rod Leonard is a former colleague of Cochrane’s at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a former IATP board member.
Posted March 13, 2012 by Shiney Varghese
I am in Marseille, France this week, home to some of the biggest water multinationals, to participate in two parallel events on water in a resource-constrained world. From March 12–17, the 6th World Water Forum brings together multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, governments, water professionals, water technologists, development organizations and of course the multinational corporations involved in water. Many development organizations participate in the event because the discussions here influence national and regional decisions that affect poor and marginal groups around the world.
On the outside, I will also be participating in the Alternative Water Forum, a parallel event for water advocates promoting water solutions that are inclusive, fair and rights based. IATP has been involved since 2002 in the planning of these alternative water events.
Much of our advocacy inside the WWC-organized forum has been in response to the refusal by the ministerial of the forum to recognize water as a right. In fact IATP’s campaign on the right to water began in response to the 2nd World Water Forum Ministerial Declaration in 2000, which said that “water is a need,” despite demands to have it recognized as a basic human right.
The issue has come a long way since then as a result of struggles around the world, and work by committed individuals in CSOs and governments at various levels. The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is now recognized by the United Nations General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the World Health Assembly (resolutions A/RES/64/292, A/HRC/RES/15/9, A/HRC/RES/16/2, A/HRC/RES/18/1 and WHA 64/24).
But the WWC-organized forum has not yet reached even this far. In its current form, the draft Ministerial Declaration of the 6th World Water Forum only commits signatories to implement “human rights obligations relating to access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation.” This carefully imprecise language leaves open the issue of whether access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a human right. The language thereby leaves room for states to individually determine whether their human rights obligations require them to realize the right to safe drinking water and sanitation for all. Such retrogressive language on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation would set a negative precedent. (Please see our joint call to the 6th World Water Forum in this regard. We thank our colleagues at Wash-United and Amnesty International for initiating this letter ).
The alternate forum is seen by water justice advocates as an opportunity to work with others concerned related issues, especially climate justice, agriculture and food sovereignty, and financialization of the commons. This year, in addition to organizing a CSO-government dialogue, we are co-organizing workshops on land/water grabbing; climate and financialization; and agro-ecological solutions to deal with multiple crises. The last is a follow up to the workshops we held during the last alternative water forum (2009) in Istanbul based on an IATP paper, integrated solutions to multiple crises.
In addition, inside the WWC-organized Forum, IATP, with our colleagues from water justice community, will be holding a side event on “Water in the Green Economy” that will examine the implications of the so-called “green economy” for sustainability, food sovereignty and the right to water. In addition, inside the forum, I will also be participating as a panelist in a multi-stakeholder dialogue on “green growth,” advocating for agroecological approaches in a session on food security and smallholder agriculture and attending ministerial round table on right to water.